When to Value Opinion, Data, and Experience

At a meeting with a group of bright, committed senior level executives discussing a critical issue things started to go sideways. The Chair, witnessing the hurdling rail car leaving the track, jumped in saying:

“Thank you everyone for your “opinions” they are very valuable. I would now like to continue the conversation asking those who have had direct “experience” to add their contributions.”

Bam!

It was like switching from Fox News to CNN.

Sometimes opinions are important, but more valid and compelling is experience and data. The switch from “I think” to “ I know” shifted the entire conversation. Avoiding the group think mentality that was becoming very prevalent but was not based on fact or experience and could have resulted in some poor decision making.

Turns out a similar age old adage is rooted in ancient philosophy. It was Socrates who talked of applying a three-fold lens to our conversations. His advice:

“Say what is true, what is kind, and what is helpful.”

In other words, say what you know!

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The Key to Business Communication: Improvise!

I was always good at thinking on my feet.

From a young age I was always the “performer” in my family and would always be putting on a show at family gatherings. So, it was no surprise that when I had the opportunity to join Regina’s premiere improv company, Hitchhikers Improv, that I jumped on the opportunity.

Improv has taught me so much more than how to expressively and humorously get my point across; it has had ripple effects into how I communicate in everyday life too!

Being understood is everything in business and in life. Being at a loss for words can be everything too – and not in a good way! Under communicating, miscommunicating, and over communicating can be a mine field that can affect everything from opportunities, to team morale and especially the bottom line.

But, I have a solution: improvise!

There is one main takeaway I’ve picked up from being on stage that has enhanced my communication skills it is this:

Don’t Listen to Respond, Listen to Understand!

Often during a conversation, we are simply listening to what the other person is saying and waiting to respond and get our message across. We seem to miss the step of “understanding”.

Something I’ve learned from improv, however, is that if you simply listen to respond, the “wants” of your respective characters can go in completely different directions and the scene feels jumbled and without meaning. If you listen to understand , you can fully react to what the person you are communicating with is looking for and how that may fit in with your own ideas which allows the scene, or the business, to run a lot more smoothly.

Along with learning how to listen with intent, learning to improvise has also given me the ability to rapidly think on my feet and trust those around me to carry on the “story” if I draw a blank. That’s how good business teams work too! Knowing when to jump in and knowing when to stand back. It is a creative and intuitive way to be present, and that is just a great way to do business and live life.

I am Braedon McLeod and I am a Story Co. collaborator who sees life as an endless improv opportunity.

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Brand Identity Crisis

I have worked with many companies suffering from a brand identity crisis. It usually does not start with a phone call that says “Hey, Janet can you help us out with our brand identity crisis?”

Generally it’s the bottom line that speaks up first and gets everyone’s attention. Underperforming products, missed targets, and poor launches are all warning signs.

Sometimes it’s noticed in HR where a growing discontent leads to turf wars and the start of a toxic culture.

Generally there is just a deep confusion that feels chaotic, and a sense of being rudderless. People become very busy but the results don’t change.

The natural inclination is to fix what is broken. People look at the micro level, fix, and tweak, but when the results don’t change, it’s a long and drawn out death until capital runs out or clients simply run away.

For those not willing to let that happen they usually need to take on the elephant in the room.

It’s usually brand.

We are not talking about poor font choices  (but don’t pick ugly fonts).

Somewhere along the brand chain something is not aligned; and it can send your company quickly in a downward spiral.

Ask the following five questions and see how your brand stacks up:

  1. What are your corporate values? Do you live them everyday with your team, with your clients? Don’t think this is just the light fluffy stuff. This is the core of success. Don’t settle here for words that sound good but don’t mean anything. Your values should light you up, and everyone you work with everyday.

  2. Do your corporate values show up in how you answer your phone, send an email, or do a presentation? Can you see it and hear it? Can you pinpoint and say “Yup, that is us. Nobody does it like us.”

  3. Do your values resonate with your clients? After all, this is all about them. Would your clients recognize your values?

  4. Who is your top customer – today, last year, next year? Can you name them by first name? (You can’t imagine how many companies cannot do this. So if you can’t answer this question you are not alone, but it is not who you want to hang with.)

  5. Are you doing the work, making the products, selling the services that are deeply connected to your corporate values? The struggle is real on this one so don’t just tilt your head and say, “I think so.” Get your sales team together, do the math and see if there is a match with your brand values. You will be glad you did.

There are many aspects about your branding statements that will propel you to success and I will write about more of them. But none of them will be as critical as understanding your core values.

Ignoring branding statements will affect your bottom line.

Embracing branding statements will also affect your bottom line.

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Personal Branding is Not Bragging

Once a term like personal branding becomes a “thing” it becomes a misunderstood “thing”.

The question I hear most is, “Isn’t personal branding just another form of bragging?”  And in our insta-happy, Facebook perfect, selfie world that could certainly be true.

But don’t be fooled.

True personal branding could not be further from bragging.

Personal branding is about finding the best way for you to help others. It is about becoming more of you, not a new you, not an improved you, or a thinner you. It is not you in a red power suit and Louboutins.

It’s about the courage to look deep and say, “This is my set of uncompromising values, this is what I do best, this is what I stand for and stand up for. This is how I am different and like no one else. This is how I can best help you.”

That is powerful, transformative stuff.

Ready to create your personal brand? Click here

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How Stories Change the Brain: Looking at Paul Zak’s Research

At The Story Co., we fundamentally believe in the power of stories. We know there is power there; that the impact of sharing and hearing stories is inherently valuable. What we didn’t know is that there is scientific research to back up our gut instinct.

Paul Zak wrote a fascinating article about – you guessed it – how stories change the brain. Look at you, reading titles and putting two and two together! I will include a link to the original article at the end so you can check it out and highly recommend reading it. Here are a few things we could not resist highlighting:

Why Stories are Important

Not only are stories are more entertaining, they are also more effective in terms of communication. Zak’s research concludes that personal, emotionally compelling stories are better remembered than a set of facts. They are also a way to connect with strangers. Forming relationships is key as a business. 

On a truly base level, Zak says: 

“My lab pioneered the behavioural study of oxytocin and has proven that when the brain synthesizes oxytocin, people are more trustworthy, generous, charitable, and compassionate. I have dubbed oxytocin the “moral molecule,” and others call it the love hormone.”

Not included in this quote is Zak’s explanation that during a well told story (well told according to brain chemistry rather than just a dynamic speaker – but there’s a lot of overlap!) the brain produces the oxytocin drug. This is a huge benefit of stories – I see no downside to a more moral society; do you?

On a business level, it makes sense that we would want customers to associate our brand with the feeling they get from producing oxytocin.

So, it’s been established that on a scientific level, stories have the edge. Great! But not so fast – not all stories are created equal. So, how do you make sure that your story is having the desired effect?

How to tell a Good Story

Zak’s team found that there are two primary aspects: the ability to hold the viewer’s attention; and “transporting” them into the world of the character.

In today’s fast moving, multitasking world it can be incredibly hard to grab the attention of a consumer. Zak holds that on an evolutionary level we are programed to use our “attention spotlight” sparingly. He says:

In fact, using one’s attentional spotlight is metabolically costly so we use it sparingly. This is why you can drive on the freeway and talk on the phone or listen to music at the same time. Your attentional spotlight is dim so you can absorb multiple informational streams. You can do this until the car in front of you jams on its brakes and your attentional spotlight illuminates fully to help you avoid an accident.

Aside from being an interesting insight into the human desire to multitask – I’m glad to finally have an explanation as to why we turn down the music when we are trying to find a specific street name! That’s a custom that has confused me since the beginning!

Once you have managed to catch the audience’s attention, if it is sustained for long enough, the audience begins to emotionally resonate with the story. This is what Zak refers to as “transportation”, as the audience will feel the character’s emotions and become more invested in the outcome.

Every attention grabbing, “transporting” story can be boiled down to what is referred to by scholars as “the dramatic arc”:

  1. Begin with something new and surprising;
  2. Increased tension with difficulties the characters must overcome – often because of some failure or past crisis;
  3. Climax, where the characters must look inside themselves to find the answer;
  4. The resolution of the story.

Do you recognize these elements in any of your favourite tales? I know I do! Do you recognize them in your favourite brand stories?

Another interesting note for businesses: Zak’s research found that it was easier to sustain people’s attention and to generate “transportation” when the medium was a video rather than written.

This means it’s time to fully embrace the video trend on social media! Not only is there an advantage in terms of the algorithms, but there’s a neurological advantage too!

There’s no denying the power of story. We know that through our own experiences with a strong story, and now we know it through science too! So what are you waiting for? Tell us your story.

The link to the original article, as promised:
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_stories_change_brain#gsc.tab=0

Written by Story Co. collaborator Emily Brenner

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